“It’s a matter of political willingness,” said Yáñez Barnuevo, who was flanked by European lawmakers Josefa Andrés Barea and Ana Miranda (Spain), Jean-Pierre Audy (France) and Mario Pirillo (Italy).
Although the European lawmakers admitted that a trade deal between the two blocs has been on the table for more than a decade, he stressed that real progress was made this year: “We are not starting from scratch, this strategic agreement covers three pillars: political, economic and commercial cooperation. Ninety-five percent of the agreement is already completed; we just need to focus on the remaining five percent that has to do with priorities.”
Yáñez Barnuevo did not want to elaborate further in order to avoid hindering the talks in any way. “We have pledged to have an offer of exchanges from both parts before the end of the year,” he said, adding that “this deadline was not picked randomly” because by that time the new Paraguayan president will have taken office and the country should be reinstated as a Mercosur member.
He added that this commitment was made during the CELAC-EU summit in Chile last January.
Major hurdles in the talks are related to the need of both blocs to protect their less competitive sectors: agricultural products in the case of Europe and industries in the Mercosur countries.
During a press conference the European delegates said both parts were working to conclude negotiations before a EU-US trade agreement is signed and before the European legislative elections take place next year.
“I would say 400 out of the 750 members of the European Parliament are in favour of the Mercosur-EU deal, but of course we don’t know if the next Parliament will be as favourable” explained Yáñez Barnuevo.
He then dismissed rumours that Brazil was considering signing a separate agreement with the EU “both because it does not want to and because it can’t, with the same thing happening in the case of Europe.”
Yáñez Barnuevo not only denied that Argentina had been an obstacle in the completion of the negotiations, but stressed it was President Cristina Fernández who unlocked talks in 2010, after six years of no progress.
The European delegation met in Buenos Aires with Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, an encounter which was described as “sincere and open” by Yáñez-Barnuevo. Meetings were also held with Deputy Guillermo Carmona and Senator Daniel Filmus, chairmen of the Argentine congress Lower and Upper House Foreign Relations Committees, respectively.